While this article was originally written to address food storage the principles apply to any and all of our preparedness supplies.
If you have already started a food storage program then you probably know that after a short time you lose track of what you have, what expires when, and what you need to get. Heck, most of us, if we don’t go to the store with a shopping list, forget at least one item – some of us forget what we go into another room for! Others, especially if you go to one of the bulk stores, come out with more than we planned to get! Well, one is none right? At least that what we tell our significant other when we come home from the gun show with two new guns ?
There are a lot of different ways to keep inventory. You need to figure out what information you want to keep track of. Some of this is going to depend on the types of food you store. For example; do you have all pre-packaged food, do you buy bulk and repack into your own mylar bags, do you use all the same size bags or different ones, do you can your own foods? You obviously want to be able to quickly see how much inventory you have of an item.
Note Book or Binder
Your inventory system can be as simple as a note book, perhaps with a page for each type of food, a column for when you add something, and the expiration date, or expected shelf life. You could use a 3-ring binder with tabs, which makes it easy to add pages as it fills up. Obviously the larger your inventory the more difficult, or at least labor intensive, this is to start. If you have supplies at different locations you want to keep track of what is where, so this adds another layer of complexity to your organization.
Excel Spread Sheets
Another method is to use a spread sheet, such as Excel. If you have a basic understanding of Excel it is easy to create a column for a different packaging, date packaged, expected expiration, etc. A simple formula can keep your total inventory, using a negative number when you use a package. You could use a tab for different categories of items, such as grains, beans, legumes, etc. You could use another tab for each different location or use a column in the current sheet, which would give you total supplies by location within each tab. The advantage with an Excel spread sheet is that you can incorporate it with a goal list of items (different food types, etc.) based on some of the recommended quantities you can find on sites like Provident Living and Survival Mom, most of which are based on recommendations from The Church of Latter-Day Saints.
There are some ready-made spread sheet inventory programs in Excel available on the web at such sites like Prepared Housewives (has a review of a number of different spread sheet inventory programs) and Seniors Mess. The advantage is that someone has done the development work for you, the disadvantage is that it’s someone else’s way to inventory. If you have a basic understanding of Excel I’d encourage you to look at how other people are doing it, see if you like it, or take the ideas that you like and make your own. This has advantages especially if you can food as most of the ones I’ve seen don’t account for canning or gardens.
The list at Food Storage Made Easy is premised on a 3-month supply and recipes. It shows how much you have and how much you need. It doesn’t appear to account for expiration dates or different storage locations. They have another spread sheet at http://foodstoragemadeeasy.net/babysteps/step-4-long-term-food-storage-planning/ that is designed for long term storage.
Obviously, you should print out your sheets and put them in a binder, so you have a hard copy. If you have different locations, then you should have a copy of what is at each location at that location.
Out of the Box Solutions
There are a number of inventory programs on the market, most are designed for restaurant inventory’s. These is one that I’ve found that was designed for personal preparedness, Survival Stores by www.419systems.com. From what I understand the program was originally designed to encourage people to create a family emergency plan. The program comes with a basic database of supplies and categories. You can add to this. The program allows you to create an item together with it’s expiration. You can also add a new item as you are adding it to inventory. You can add multiple locations and indicate when various quantities of each item are stored, whether various locations in your house, or different locations. The program also allows you to use a bar code scanner, which you can find one on Amazon and similar stores for about $25. You scan the items bar code in the inventory database and thereon you can scan an item to add to inventory. You can also save a picture in the inventory database. The program also runs off a USB, so you are not limited to a single computer installation. There is the ability to print inventories but I’m a little disappointed with that feature of the program, it could use some work, such as a csv output format. However, for only $35 it’s not bad. When you first get the program you do need to take some time to figure out how the various databases and lists work together, then how you want to list items and create the item database before you start adding inventory.
One of the first things you need to modify or update are the basic database lists, seen in the drop down box, such as address types, list types, location types.
I’ve only used this program for about 12 months but I do have some friends how have used this program for a number of years. If you spend a little time setting it up before you start inventorying it’s a useful way to keep track of a large quantity of supplies, when you stored them, their storage life and where you have them stored.
Then you update item types. Such as; canning supplies, medical, books, etc.
Then each one of the item types can have sub types.
I point these out because if you don’t give some thought to this before you start adding items you can create yourself a mess which takes some work to undo (yup I learnt the hard way!).
I would STRONGLY recommend NOT using any app on your smart phone to maintain an inventory with.
It’s Not Just Beans
While we are primarily talking about tracking inventory for food we should remember there are other items a good prepper should have in stock, such as fuel, toilet paper, batteries, candles, toilet paper, hands tools, first aid and medical supplies, toilet paper, radios, seeds, ammunition and toilet paper, etc.
We should have a list of the quantities of each we think we should have and what we have.
I’m working on an Excel inventory tracking program and I’ll share with Patrons once it is finished.
If you are part of a group you might have individual inventories or you might have a couple of people who are your ‘logistics specialists’ who keep a master inventory, or an inventory of group items, like large water filtration systems, generators, solar kits, group kitchen/cooking equipment, etc.
If you are serious about being prepared you need to know what you need, you also need to know what you have, otherwise you don’t know what you need to get. Keeping an inventory should be part of your preparedness planning so you can be smart at what you buy and need.
I served 7 years on an Incident Management Team in the logistics section. I’m an instructor for the FMEA Logistics Section Chief as well as the Supply Unit Leader programs. I’m in the process of writing another article on logistics and tracking supplies and equipment.